CHAROLAIS Or, Charollais.
- An enclave of Habsburg territory within the borders of France, 1493-1659/1684.
Charolles, its capital, is WNW of Macon, and southwest of Chalon-sur-Saône.
Its Vicomte in the mid-10th century, or a little later, married the heiress to the County of Chalon. She was the daughter of Gilbert, the Arch-Count of Burgundy and ruler of the Duchy, 952-6. Charolais was acquired by Duke Robert I of Burgundy in the 11th century. Duke Hugh IV gave it to John (d.1268), his second son, who was married to the heiress of Bourbon.
Their daughter and heiress, for whom Charolais was raised to the rank of a County, left it to her second son (the elder inherited Bourbon), who died in 1316. His daughter married the Count of Armagnac in 1327, but their son sold Charolais back to the Duke of Burgundy in 1390. The last two Dukes were known as Count of Charolais while heir. When Charles the Rash died in 1477, Charolais, like the rest of French Burgundy, passed to the King of France.
The Valois Kings of France and the Habsburg heirs to the Valois Dukes of Burgundy struggled for fifteen years for the inheritance, until in 1493 they came to an agreement dividing the lands. Among the lands that were acknowledged as Habsburg was Charolais. Unlike the rest of the Habsburg share, Charolais had never belonged to anything other than the French Kingdom after the partition of the Carolingian Kingdom in 843 – not to the Kingdom of Burgundy nor to Lotharingia nor to the Empire.
It was moreover entirely surrounded by French territory, by lands of the former Duchy of Burgundy. This enclave, which with the partition of the Habsburg lands between the Spanish and Austrian branches remained with the King of Spain, was not surprisingly swiftly occupied by French soldiers every time France and Spain were at war, though with each peace settlement it was handed back, at least until the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659.
The return of Charolais to Spain was agreed, as was customary, in 1659, but it was grabbed by the Prince of Condé, Prince of the Blood, Governor of the Burgundy which surrounded it and sometime general for the King of Spain, who, the Grand Condé said, owed him money. Due process of law followed. In 1684 the courts found in Condé’s favour, and so the sovereignty passed to the King of France and the property and rights to his kinsman.
The medieval estates continued to function until 1751 when they were merged into those of Burgundy, preparing the way for the full reunion with France when the Grand Condé’s grandson, the last and debauched Count of Charolais should die, which he did in 1760. Its lands are now part of the Department of Saône-et-Loire.